The New York Jets have their franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, the first-round pick who will be expected to lead this team over the next decade. Now, let him grow and develop into a franchise quarterback.
There are plenty of reasons to be excited about Darnold, the former USC quarterback dropping to the Jets at the No. 3 pick. He has the look, feel and pedigree of being a quarterback who can put a team on his broad shoulders. The time of his anointing isn’t this moment, however.
First, Darnold must learn and grow into this role before he can put on Joe Willy’s white shoes and fur coat. This isn’t something that is lost on general manager Mike Maccagnan who prepared for this moment earlier this offseason.
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This is a player, who was tabbed for weeks if not months as the draft’s marquee quarterback and yet, somehow two teams bypassed him to go in different directions. And while the Cleveland Browns shouldn’t be faulted for taking Baker Mayfield nor should the New York Giants for adding running back Saquon Barkley, the Jets clearly benefit from their decisions. This is a team that has wandered in the wilderness of the NFL for four decades without a quarterback since Joe Namath.
That isn’t the case anymore. Darnold has all the tools, has the big arm and the experience in college to take that next step on Sundays.
That next step though, shouldn’t come Week 1.
The Jets very purposefully stockpiled veteran quarterbacks this offseason. Maccagnanan brought back Josh McCown after his success last year and added Teddy Bridgewater in free agency. It all means that, no matter how good Darnold might be during rookie minicamp or in training camp, there is no reason to rush him.
There is time for him to round out his game, to refine his technique, to really get into the playbook. These things don’t happen overnight. It might take him until October or November to get to that point or perhaps even next year. Whatever the case and no matter how long, the Jets must not rush their new prized quarterback.
It must be a lesson learned from the Jets past.
Nine years ago, the Jets rushed along Mark Sanchez, the sixth overall pick in the draft who like Darnold hailed from USC. While the Jets ended up in the playoffs that year and the next, Sanchez would have benefitted from a time to sit and watch rather than be rushed along.
Geno Smith in 2013 also fell victim to being moved into a starting role too fast, the Jets naming the rookie and a second-round pick as the starter when he would have been best served to develop for the leap from his college offense to the NFL. He faced even greater hurdles than Darnold in terms of transitioning from his college offense to the Jets and now he is likely destined to be a backup quarterback for the rest of his career.
Now in Darnold, the Jets will face even great pressures to start their rookie.
Darnold is a higher draft pick than Sanchez or Smith, and he comes with a better college resume along with far more hype. The first time he beats the coverage over the top or zips a pass to fellow rookie tight end Christopher Herndon IV in minicamp, throwing in a tight window between a couple of undrafted rookie free agents cornerbacks, the hyperbole will begin. The demand will grow on the back pages to start this kid now.
Headlines will scream for it, based solely on his performance in shorts and a t-shirt at rookie minicamp. Fans will foam at the mouth, demanding that he start. Reporters will be retweeted and every Vine showing a single throw will lead to more of a demand, more shouts to start Darnold now
It is simply the way things are done in the world’s largest media market.
The Jets have to guard against this temptation. Darnold’s development long-term is the most important thing to this franchise, his growth and maturity will be what Maccagnanan and head coach Todd Bowles will be graded on. If they develop him, they could be with the Jets a long time.
Get this one right, let him grow and develop and Darnold might just be that second coming of Joe Namath. Complete, perhaps, with his own Super Bowl ring.